Hugh Wallace: The time is right to reclaim land in Dublin Bay for new homes

Reclaiming land between Clontarf and Sandymount Strand could create a valuable land bank for high-density – not high-rise – housing

History tells us that many of our regional towns and cities have been shaped, in part, by lands reclaimed from our rivers and the sea.

In Cork, archaeological evidence suggests that parts of the River Lee were reclaimed by the Vikings. In Dungarvan, the Walton Causeway Park on Waterford’s spectacular greenway – if you haven’t been, you should – is built, in its entirety, on reclaimed land. In 2002 a paper published by the geography department at the University of Limerick – Historic Land Reclamation in the Intertidal Wetlands of the Shannon Estuary, Western Ireland by Micheal Healy and Kieran Hickey – says that much of the Shannon-estuary lowlands have been subjected to “deliberate manipulation of the local environment since at least neolithic times”. And in Dublin a drive along Fairview’s Strand Road, without a strand in sight, is quite telling.

So I think it’s fair to say that the reclamation of land on our fair isle is not a new concept and that it’s time to have a go at it again.

It’s refreshing to see Waterford City and County Council leading the way with its recent announcement of an ambitious plan for the regeneration of the city’s North Quays. Considering the rising sea levels and the environmental impact of redeveloping the old harbour, this new public-amenity space, learning lessons from past efforts, aims to be flood-resistant. Its vision is to balance the existing city and enhance Waterford as the regional centre for the southeast of Ireland.

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The rest of the country should follow this ambitious lead.

In Cork, from virtually the Dunkettle interchange into Cork City and on to the northside of the River Lee, there exists the most amazing opportunity, through careful land reclamation, to create a sustainable, environmentally sensitive housing solution with its own Luas system taking people into the city and beyond.

Discussions around the redevelopment of Cork’s harbour have been ongoing for decades, but where is the action? Where are the planning applications? Why isn’t the process under way? Where are the contractors and, more importantly, where is the vision? Mind-blowing. Now we have to wait at least another 15 years for anything to happen.

This is a real opportunity to deliver housing and commercial enterprise in an area that has the potential to reinforce the city centre. An efficient tram network, travelling through the city and up to Blackpool or out to Cork Airport, connecting residents to the schools and amenities of the city centre. Now that’s sustainable development.

I wonder why it takes us so long to get these things under way.

Wherever the harbour strategy ends up, it is imperative that it includes a flood barrier, similar to London or Belfast, to protect the city from the rising seawater.

And as for Dublin, it is no secret that, historically, large tracts of land have been reclaimed from the sea to reshape the capital’s coastline. Over the years there has been an abundance of proposals to reclaim more land around Dublin Bay. We’ve had everything from an airport to a refinery and even a hoax application for a high-rise city and giraffe park that you’d expect to see built in the deserts in Dubai. Much controversy and conversation followed each proposal, of course. But that hasn’t stopped visionaries and idealists coming up with fresh propositions to expand the city all in the name of addressing our persistent housing crisis.

The whispered-about reclamation of Clontarf and Sandymount Strand is one such sensitive scheme. Harry Crosbie is a vocal proponent of this proposition, and I firmly agree with him; it’s an absolute no-brainer.

Aside from providing multiple potential solutions to the problematic rising flood lines and dire traffic congestion connecting the north and south sides of our city, it also offers a rebalancing of Dublin and the creation of a 15-minute sustainable city.

Reclaiming the land creates a valuable land bank for high-density – but not high-rise – housing. all supported by high-amenity, recreational spaces with access to golden strands and public-seawater swimming pools. Promenades, yacht harbours and a deepwater river, created by a diverted Tolka river, would create the most wonderful backdrop for family homes and apartments, catering for the full demographic spectrum of our society.

With one of the warmest November weeks on record having just passed, and at a time when climate change are the two words on everyone’s lips, this is an idea that once again reminds us that to do nothing will result in the rising tides advancing ever further on our coastal towns and villages.

But this isn’t just a local issue; it belongs on our national agenda.

This is one of those fundamental challenges that needs to be dealt with by a national strategic planning executive. There needs to be a holistic approach, an overarching solution that can be tailored to each city. Add to that the idea of finding a solution to the dangers of a rising sea level before the crisis really hits, one that has the potential to provide homes for up to 200,000 people. Imagine that.

Hugh Wallace

Hugh Wallace

Hugh Wallace, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a founding partner of the Douglas Wallace architectural practice and presenter of The Great House Revival on RTÉ